We now approach the final trial Luke records in his gospel, indeed, this is the final trial of Jesus. According to John Lawrence, Jesus has a total of six trials (see The Six Trials of Jesus) and this, then would be the sixth. During this final trial, Jesus stands before Pilate once again; Pilate is the person who has the authority to condemn Jesus to death. In this final scene recorded in Luke 23.13-25, Pilate calls together all of the key players: the chief priests (who have been very instrumental in bringing this to its conclusion), the rulers (the members of the Sanhedrin) and also “the people.” One commentator writes that Pilate includes the people (or crowds, see v.4) in the hopes that Jesus might find some friend, someone who will side with Him and rescue Him.
Pilate states the charges brought against Jesus, the very charges the Jewish leaders brought in verse 2: Jesus is misleading the people. That is, Jesus is inciting them to riot and revolt against the Roman government. Of course, this charge is erroneous and so Pilate explains that after careful evaluation of the man Jesus, he finds Jesus “Not guilty.” Not only that, but Herod has come to same conclusion: “Not guilty.” They found “nothing” and in the Greek this is emphatic. Not a single charge has stuck. Jesus has done nothing deserving death or any other punishment for that matter. In spite of all this, Pilate makes a startling declaration: “I will therefore punish and release him” (ESV). What?! Jesus is “Not guilty.” There is absolute nothing to punish Him. Nevertheless, it was often Roman custom to inflict a light beating as a warning to take heed to future conduct. But this punishment is not just a slap on the wrist; elsewhere in the gospel accounts (Matt 27.26; Mark 15.15; John 19.1) we know that this was a Roman scourging. It was brutal, vicious, cruel. While the Jews had the rule of “forty minus one” the Romans had no limit. This was shame heaped upon more shame. Once Jesus has been flogged, then He will be released. Pilate has spoken.
The People’s Demand
But the people collectively, chief priests and rulers no doubt leading the charge, raise their voice and cry out that a murderer and true insurrectionist be released instead of Jesus. The only thing that will do with Jesus is death. So “Away with this man” to death and give us the criminal. He was a robber (John 18.40), a murder and insurrectionist (Luke 23.19; Mark 15.7), and a notorius prisoner (Matt 27.16). This was a bad man who had done very bad things. According to tradition, he had the surname “Jesus.” Interesting, if tradition is true, we have Jesus the “son of his father” (that’s what Barabbas means) and Jesus the Son of the Father standing before the howling mob and they cry out for criminal and condemn the Christ. Everything that Jesus Christ endures, the savage beating, mocking, punishment, and crucifxion were rightly due to Barabbas. Yet he is free to go. Another has taken his place: Jesus of Nazareth. Barabbas, did you get it? I wonder if he ever realized how great a sacrifice was made for him that day not only physcially, but also spiritually. Christ on the cross is not just taking the punishment due a criminal held by Pilate, but Jesus is dying for the sins of the whole world. Christian, do we get it? The punishment rightfully due was place on Him and He took it. He drank the cup of God’s wrath dry so that we would not have to. He was our substitute. A death needed to take place for our sins and Jesus takes our place; we go free, released from our sins.
Pilate seems to want to do the right thing, he wants to release Jesus and he has been trying to do everything he can to do just that. It is incredible that this goes on for so long and one wonders why he didn’t just say, “Enough” and let Jesus walk out free and clear. But then you read this in Mark: “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for Barabbas and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (15.15, italics mine). Pilate was a people pleaser; while on the one hand he wanted to do what was right and release Jesus (Luke 23.20) equally important was making sure the crowds were happy. It is impossible to please everyone and Pilate learns this when he condemns an innocent man to death. The people cry all the louder, “Crucify, Crucify him!” Though he tries desperately to once more to release Jesus after punishing Him, the crowd cries even louder and with more urgency, “Crucify, Crucify him!!” It has reached a frenzied, fever pitch. “And their voices prevailed.” The people have won.
Pilate sits on his seat of judgment (John 19.13) and renders his final sentence: he turns Jesus over to be crucified. He gives them what they want – an insurrectionist in place of the innocent and they are free to do as they will with Jesus. Luke has had us marching us with Jesus down this path for some time. We might even trace its origin to 9.51 where Jesus set His face resolutely toward Jerusalem. And now comes the final grim chapter in the life of Jesus. The will of the Jewish people, especially the chief priests and rulers, is to crucify Jesus.